Book Review: Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

‘When we walked side by side, did I not feel his humanity most profoundly? Only now did I begin to understand why it was not always through words that people sought each other out and came to understand each other.’

I was profoundly moved by this gem of a book. In ‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’, Ali portrays the deepest corners of the human soul. We, the readers, witness the development of the feeling called ‘love’ from the perspective of a young, extremely sensitive Turkish man, Raif Efendi.

Ali’s writing offers probably one of the best description of a sensitive man, deeply emphatic soul.

‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’ is a pure definition of ‘melancholy’ and yearning for missed opportunities in life. We follow the life of Raif during the 1920s and 1930s while he lives in Berlin, Istanbul and Ankara. While in Berlin, he meets a Jewish woman, Maria and they become the loves of each other’s lives. Their love, at times, appears to be more platonic, than romantic; marred by the complexity of their respective backgrounds, social norms, and by the struggles caused by the mundanity of life. It is a bond of two delicate souls – outsiders, although very different in many respects.

It’s also a story about living in a prejudiced society which rewards certain egoistic behavioural patterns, and humiliates the ones who do not conform to its norms and want to live according to their own values of compassion, equality and kindness.

‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’ by  Sabahattin Ali (1907 – 1948) was originally published in 1943 and it did not impress the readers nor the literary critics. However, over the course of many decades it has become the classic of the 20th century Turkish literature. As we entered the 21st century, interestingly enough ‘Madonna’ in a Fur Coat’ has outsold Orhan Panmuk‘s novels in Turkey.

This book does capture something inexplicable when it comes to human experience of ‘love’ in all its forms.

Ali’s words have the ability to penetrate readers’ soul in the most exquisite manner. Ali was a magician of words; he added a sprinkle of stardust to the seemingly mundane story and created a profoundly moving tale of the most basic human emotions. This book is a real gift to the human thought.

If you have not read it yet, I would highly recommend you to add ‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’ to your home library.

To end it, I will share one of my favourite quotes from the beautiful book:

‘And there I was, trying (…) to find out if the soul hiding inside it was ordered or in turmoil. For even the most wretched and simple-minded man could be a surprise, even a fool could have a soul whose torments were a constant source of amazement. Why are we so slow to see this, and why do we assume that it is the easiest thing in the world to know and judge another? Why (…) do we draw our final conclusions from our first encounters with people, and happily dismiss them?

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